Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner: Potted Panto 

By | Published on Friday 17 November 2023

As you may have noticed, we’ve been turning our attention to panto quite a bit of late. And here’s a panto – well, actually kinda more than one panto – that you will surely have heard of, given that it’s the West End’s longest running pantomime and Olivier Award nominated to boot.

For ‘Potted Panto’ is back for a ninth London season, but this time it’s headed to the capital’s east end, specifically the fabulous Wilton’s Music Hall. In honour of its return, I had a chat with creators and performers Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner ahead of the imminent run. 

CM: Can you start by telling us – just in case we have readers who are not aware of it – what kind of show to expect from ‘Potted Panto’?
DC: In ‘Potted Panto’ we attempt to perform the six most popular pantomimes in 80 minutes, playing everyone from Prince Charming to Fairy Godmother, Dick Whittington to Daisy the cow.

It’s silly fast paced festive fun with more stuffed into it than an oversized turkey with lashings of Christmas spirit on top!

CM: Are all the traditional pantos in there? Who is missing?
JT: I think we pretty much have all the traditional ones. We did have ‘Goldilocks’ in the show for a while as an extra panto and we’ve toyed with ‘Mother Goose’, ‘Puss In Boots’ and ‘Pinocchio’ over the years.

But if most people named the top five pantos there are, we’d have it covered. And ‘A Christmas Carol’, because it’s the greatest Christmas story ever!

CM: Who is the show suitable for?
DC: Literally everyone! We wanted to create a Christmas show that really was for the whole family, where everyone can come along and laugh and have fun together.

Even if you’re the most bah humbuggiest of Grinches we will take on the challenge and have you ding donging merrily on high before the curtain falls!

CM: The show first premiered quite a long time ago. Has it changed in the intervening years? Are there differences depending on who is performing it?
JT: The show has definitely developed since it premiered in 2010. We have had a lot of Christmases to make the show better and I believe we’ve made it better every year. We put new gags in all the time – to keep ourselves on the ball – lots disappear in the mists of time, but the best ones remain.

‘Potted Panto’ is almost always performed by Dan and I, but we have had understudies, alternate performers and swings over the years.

And as there is a lot of our personalities in the show, it’s always a bit different if performed by anyone else – but the jokes are the same and the characters are largely similar.

CM: While we’re talking about ‘back then’, what was the original inspiration for the show? What made you think it would work?
DC: Pantomime is such a unique British festive tradition, and one that we both loved dearly, both from watching them as kids then performing in them as real life grown up actors!

There really is nothing quite like it in the whole world, and we wanted to pay homage to this wonderful form of theatre, while lovingly poking fun at some of the traditions that exist within it that we so readily take for granted.

It really is irresistible source material and when we asked ourselves how would panto look to someone who knew nothing about it?  What if you didn’t know any of the traditions? What if every time someone shouted “behind you”, you looked?

Then the panto stories themselves: ‘Is shoe size alone really the best most constructive way to find your one true love?’ And ‘the giant at the top of the beanstalk, a villain or just a victim of domestic burglary?!’ The show really started to write itself!

CM: And while we’re talking about that, can you tell us a bit about the creative process? How does it work when three writers are all working on the same thing?
JT: Well, in this instance, the three of us would meet at Royal Festival Hall, order tea, have a chat and then sit in different corners, to then reconvene with what we had managed to produce.

As the three of us were involved from conception to writing, to rehearsal, to stage – it kept changing the whole way. I don’t think I would recognise the draft of the script we very first went into rehearsal with!

CM: How did this run at Wilton’s come about? What made you want to perform there?
DC: I think anyone who has ever been to Wilton’s will agree there is just something magical about the building.

You really do feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and the theatre itself has all the grandeur of an old time Victorian music hall, while still having a wonderful sense of intimacy.

I’d been fortunate enough to have had a show I’d written – ‘The Crown Live’, a parody of Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ – do a short run there and totally fell in love with the venue.

So when the chance came up that we could take the Christmas spot and make this our home for the festive period, following in the footsteps of such a rich and wonderful legacy, how could we refuse!

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourselves, now? A bit of history? How did you end up working in the entertainment industry? What led you to this point?
JT: Well, Dan and I met in 2004 and started working together not too long after that. We genuinely thought it would be for one performance of one show and that would be it. I think we must have performed upwards of 3000 shows together now.

Personally, I always wanted to be an actor. I went to uni and got a theatre degree. I then screwed that up and went to try and find work. Dan went to drama school and has very nearly, almost, used some of the stuff he learned there.

We have been very lucky, we have worked pretty hard and people really enjoy what we create together. All of that has led us to Wilton’s, via Edinburgh, Corby, Las Vegas and New York, to name just three highlights and Corby.

CM: Talking of highlights – other than the cities you have visited! – what have been the highlights of your career so far?
DC: Honestly just to have a career in this wonderfully insane industry and being able to do a job you genuinely love is such a highlight. But as that answer sounds extremely wishy washy I’ll do better!

When we took our other show ‘Potted Potter’ – “all seven Harry Potter books in 70 hilarious minutes!” – across the pond to New York and I saw its 20ft high poster in Times Square for the first time, that was a definite highlight!

And equal to that was ‘Potted Panto’ being nominated for an Olivier award. Sure, we lost to Derren Brown, but who’d have seen that coming… Well him obviously, that’s pretty much his shtick!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
JT: Like most people in the industry, I’d love to do more TV.

But we are now very experienced in theatre – because we are old – and, I think, we are good at it – we are also modest! – so maybe sticking with what I know and love is more sensible.

I’d never say never about creating something new with Dan, but he’s very busy nowadays. He knows the mayor of Watford, you know…

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
DC: We’re actually really looking forward to 2024!

We both have things in the pipeline which is great. Jeff is currently writing the great British novel and is now apparently grown up enough to be a father to an actual baby so that’s keeping him rather busy!

And I have a few projects I’m currently developing for both TV and theatre which I’m quite excited about – not allowed to reveal too much right now but I promise as soon as I can you’ll be the first to know! I’m also getting married so that’s definitely going to be a highlight!

It does feel like we have come a long way since the days of two young actors entertaining the queues at midnight on the streets of London as they wait for the release of the Harry Potter book!

‘Potted Panto’ is on at Wilton’s Music Hall from 29 Nov-30 Dec. Head to the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

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